Thursday, October 8, 2009

MOP 5 Time to wake up, India

This time its a book. It was a book I had with me for a while before I read it. I had three copies actually, 2 of them signed by the author. I started it a few weeks back, and frankly, after many years, I have come across a big fat book, that I don't want to keep down. It has the power to draw you in. And specially if you are an Indian, you just can't help it.

Nandan Nilekani's book, Imagining India, is a must read for every Indian. Like Tom Friedman says, Nilekani is a great explainer!.

Initially I thought this book was about business. I was pleasantly surprised, this book is all about India, how we are, why we do certain things, and where we are headed and ideas that will help us. It has anecdotes and mentions on our history, culture, politics, religion, and just about everything that we see around us. All set in a casual, but genuine tone. Here is a random excerpt. (I just can't help but share it. It is just a random page I picked, and in no way is my endorsement of the policy or the political party involved ;))

"The big fear for the states about moving towards VAT was that it would reduce their independence, and the centre would appropriate their revenue and tax collecting powers. The UPA govt. took up VAT reforms where the NDA govt. left off, but the challenge in convincing the states remained. Dr. Shome tells me, "Chidambaram met the resistance from some states against VAT by offering to compensate them for any losses... At the meeting, I was sending him memos to stick to a 12.5% compensation. But he looked up and offered 17.5%! He then passed a paper to me, which said, Partho, sometimes in life, you have to take risks". These guys have their bit of fun too!

The book is set with numerous examples and interesting tidbits like how politicians were wary of Rajiv Gandhi and his team of computer boys, which included advisors like Sam Pitroda. Sam apparently told Nilekani, that he saw his first phone when he went to the US. We all know how that spark ignited the telecom revolution in our country.

The book inspires the optimist, and has the power to pacify and reason the pessimist in every Indian. Once you read this, your perspective on the pothole that you curse changes. You suddenly feel, you need to do your bit too. Not necessarily in repairing that pothole, but in the overall development of our country. The potholes are but an effect. Its the cause that needs to be mended.

And I take pride in the fact that Mr. Nilekani is no stranger. I had the opportunity to meet him along with Rakesh Varma and Kiran Gopinath, when we were on the road (literally), trying to raise funds to set up Webshastra. He gave us time at his office in Infosys, some advice, and also invited us to join a state Govt. seminar on IT, which was attended by the then CM, S M Krishna. Back then it was some advice and good wishes, now it is an inspiring book that has shifted my thinking. Thank you once again.

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